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Kobe Bryant leaves behind a billion-dollar empire thanks to savvy deals that made him one of the richest athletes

Even before leaving the NBA, Bryant diversified his career by breaking into the investing world while winning matches for the Los Angeles Lakers.
UPDATED JAN 27, 2020
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Beyond the court, the legendary Kobe Bryant was known to the business world as a brand-builder, an investor, as well as a coach to company founders and other aspiring athletes. The NBA superstar was just 41 when he died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday.

"For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "He was generous with the wisdom he acquired and saw it as his mission to share with future generations of players."

Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives against the New York Knicks on December 16, 2008, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 116-114. (Getty Images)

Looking to the future even before leaving the NBA, Bryant diversified his career by breaking into the investing world while winning matches for the Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA Hall-of-Famer partnered with founder Jeff Stibel to start venture capital firm Bryant Stibel in 2013.

In founding the company, Bryant joined a select number of sports legends like Earvin "Magic" Johnson who have successfully used their brand to achieve business success. Having said that, Bryant's firm has investments in several technology, media, and data companies -- thereby amassing over US$2 billion in assets.

Bryant Stibel, which claims at least 10 successful exits including Dell and Alibaba, also has investments in Fortnite maker Epic Games, digital payment firm Klarna, and household products firm The Honest Company.

"You've got to have strong entrepreneurs, that's really the key for us is looking at the people," Bryant said in an interview with CNBC in September 2019. "Yes, it's important to see those returns, right? But it's also important to have great opportunity, great relationships with our investors, great opportunities with our entrepreneurs to help them grow and put them in situations where they can be successful."

Gianna Bryant and her father, former NBA player Kobe Bryant, attend the WNBA All-Star Game 2019 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 27, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty Images)

Aside from Bryant Stibel, the celebrated shooting guard also made millions of dollars by investing in sports drink Body Armor, which increased its valuation in 2018 by selling a majority stake to Coca Cola. That said, Bryant's star power and brand building skills have been instrumental in his business success -- something noted by a number of other star athletes.

"I think Kobe's somebody who's been super fun to kind of pick his brain about some things," Olympic gold-medalist Michael Phelps told The Wall Street Journal in August.

"We've had the privilege and the opportunity in our sports to be successful and reach the pinnacle and we know what it takes to get to that top level. So now, it's always the challenge for the athletes to find that drive outside of the sport."

Bryant founded Granity Studios in 2016. Through the media firm, which focuses on creative storytelling around sports, the basketball star narrated a short film titled 'Dear Basketball'. The movie went on to bag an Academy Award for best animated short film in 2018.

“The best way to inspire the next generation of athletes is through stories,” Bryant said at a post-screening Q&A for 'Dear Basketball' at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. “You can sit here and say things, say ‘you need to be devoted and work hard.’ But if you do it through stories, then it tends to sink in more.”

Endearing known in the basketball world as "Black Mamba," Bryant began to build his personal brand early in his career as a Nike endorser, signing his first deal with the shoe giant in 2003. A number of elite NBA players signed with the brand the same year, including the likes of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.

In this handout provided by A.M.P.A.S., Kobe Bryant, winner of the Best Animated Short Film award for 'Dear Basketball,' attends the 90th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on March 4, 2018, in Hollywood, California. (Getty Images)

For the next couple of decades, Nike's partnership grew alongside Bryant's success on the court. It also helped the company once again solidify its position in the sport following Michael Jordan's 2003 retirement.

Bryant was seen on stage with former Nike CEO Mark Parker at the company's annual investor meeting in 2017 as they celebrated the launch of a new vertical featuring multiple lines of Kobe shoes and gear.The same year, Nike partnered with Bryant and the Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club to launch the Mamba League -- a youth basketball league designed to give hundreds of children free access to the sport. Later on, Bryant would form the Mamba Sports Academy, which is designed to provide broader athletic and lifestyle training to contenders at all levels in a wide range of sports. Tragically, the basketball superstar was on his way to a Mamba Sports Academy game on Sunday when his helicopter crashed.

"We are devastated by today's tragic news. We extend our deepest sympathies to those closest to Kobe, especially his family and friends," Nike said in a statement. "He was one of the greatest athletes of his generation and has had an immeasurable impact on the world of sport and the community of basketball. He was a beloved member of the Nike family. We will miss him greatly. Mamba forever."

Kobe Bryant pictured at Nike Town London as part of his European Black Mamba Tour with Nike on October 22, 2017, in London, England. (Getty Images)

Bryant's popularity has helped the NBA expand its audience beyond the United States, especially in China, where the league has become highly popular.

In 2015, Bryant partnered with Alibaba Group to release his documentary 'Kobe Bryant's Muse' through its Tmall Magic Box TV in China. According to a press release from Alibaba announcing their partnership, the deal also involved creating a new social media platform that would bring "new avenues of connecting China's young people directly to Kobe and his philosophies."

Furthermore, the eCommerce company also sells a number of Kobe-branded on its international retail platform. Bryant also found time to write. 

The uber-talented athlete also wrote a book titled 'The Mamba Mentality' which was released in 2018. “I remember when, as a kid, I got my first real basketball,” Bryant wrote in the opening of the book, which gave a “deep dive inside the mind” of the NBA legend.

“I loved the feel of it in my hands, I was so enamored with the ball that I didn’t actually want to bounce it or use it because I didn’t want to ruin the pebbled leather grains or the perfect grooves," he continued.

The book became a bestseller on Amazon, and no hard copies remained in stock as of Sunday evening. Aside from the above, Bryant did a series of endorsement deals with a number of big brands throughout his career. These included giants such as McDonald's, Sprite, Nintendo and Turkish Airlines.